The number of private newspapers has come down from 11 to five today
The number of private newspapers is gradually disappearing from the newsstand after years of operation and the recent one to call it quits is Gyalchi Sershog, the only private Dzongkha newspaper in the market.
With the recent suspension of the last private Dzongkha newspaper, the number of private newspapers has come down from 11 to five today.
The Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Gyalchi Sershog, Goembo Dorji said it had been very difficult to operate the newspaper given the expenses of renting office, paying employees, printing cost and others without the printing subsidy and advertisements.
“I had no plan for suspension,” he said.
After there was no printing subsidy, according to Goembo Dorji, Gyalchi Sershog applied to Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority (BICMA) to stop printing and the authority approved that the license of the paper will be suspended until the printing is resumed.
Meanwhile, the government had approved 50% printing subsidy for private newspapers from July 2018 for two years, where English newspapers had to mandatorily print a minimum of 1,200 copies and 600 copies by Dzongkha newspapers in each publication every week.
The government had approved a total budget of Nu 2.609mn as printing subsidy for fiscal year 2018-2019 and has been transferred to Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF) for disbursement bi-annually.
“An email from BMF stated that the printing subsidy for the paper is done from March this year,” said Goembo Dorji.
BMF’s Executive Director Needrup Zangpo said the subsidy they received from the government has been allocated equally among the newspapers based on the minimum number of copies prescribed by BICMA.
“Gyalchi Sershog exhausted its share of subsidy earlier than others,” he added.
However, the Chief Executive Officer of Gyalchi Sershog said with the subsidy alone, it would be difficult to continue the paper.
He plans to resume the paper if only there is enough advertisement from the government and a partner to finance the newspaper.
“However, the paper is online,” he added.
Deliberating on the situation of the private print media, the Editor-In-Chief and President of the Media Association of Bhutan, representing private media, Tenzing Lamsang, said it is the reflection of severe sustainability crisis in the private media as Gyalchi Sershog being the last Dzongkha private paper.
He added that the crisis in private media started in 2010 due to continuous austerity measures from the government where advertisement budget was cut.
“Similarly, the situation has been made much worse due to e-procurement where advertisement is put in the e-procurement website instead of media outlets,” said Tenzing Lamsang.
Sustainability is the biggest challenge facing the Bhutanese print media and BMF is exploring different ways to address it, printing subsidy being one of them, according to Needrup Zangpo.
He said another challenge is online transition of the media as the future of the media being online.
“Dzongkha newspapers are doubly important as the channels of news and information as well as the promoters of Dzongkha language,” said Needrup Zangpo.
The President of Journalists Association of Bhutan, Rinzin Wangchuk, admitted that the private newspapers are folding one after another and that the government should study on the situation of media in the country and why it is not doing well.
Similarly, Editor of Bhutan Times Sonam Penjor said it is disheartening to hear that another private print media is suspending its issue and that it is high time for the concerned authorities to look into the matter seriously and find solutions.
Tenzing Lamsang said, “If nothing is done, there may be a time when Bhutan may not have private media left and it is up to the Bhutanese people to decide whether it is healthy or not.”
He said the government of the day must understand that news media is not like any other industry, its failure or collapse will have wide spread repercussions on Bhutanese democracy and society.
Because of sustainability issue, the first private newspaper to shut down was Bhutan Observer in 2013, followed by Bhutan Youth the same year. The three radio stations – Radio High, Radio Waves, and Radio Centennial – have also shut down due to inadequate revenue.
Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu